I recently spent Good Friday afternoon helping my friend Niki and her mother Marueen make homemade ravioli. I invited myself to attend their annual ravioli-making day sometime last fall, and Niki agreed to the invitation provided I would show her how to make homemade ricotta cheese to stuff in the homemade ravioli. Knowing how easy it was to make ricotta at home, I knew I walked away with the better deal.
Aside from how to make the pasta, I was intrigued by how a family tradition to make homemade pasta during Easter weekend came about. I learned Maureen’s side of the family is of Italian heritage, so that explained the pasta, but what about the Good Friday connection?
Niki and Maureen reminded me those who follow the Catholic faith do not eat meat on Good Friday. Given the number of fish sandwiches my school cafeteria served on Fridays during Lent (Catholics and Protestants alike, they served us all fish) I should have remembered this. Like fish sandwiches, cheese ravioli are also a meatless meal to eat on Good Friday. Over the years, the Good Friday-cheese-ravioli-eating morphed into Good Friday-cheese-ravioli-making.
To make the dough, roughly four cups of flour, three eggs, a sprinkle of salt, and 3/4ish of a cup of water went into a bowl to be mixed and adjusted with flour and water until it was ready. And how did one know when the dough was ready? It just “felt right” (i.e. no longer tacky, but not dry).
If you are a cook who likes to measure, those instructions will drive you mad. I used to be that type of person (I measured water to boil spaghetti, for Pete’s sake), and I still feel my anxiety level rise when I read a recipe that does not include a picture of the final product to guide me or requires a technique that appears to be written with assumed steps. But over time, and with much trial and error, I finally understood the best thing I could do to better my cooking and baking was to try again and again, be patient, and give myself permission to fail.
What I learned last Friday was how simple the process of making homemade ravioli could actually be. Or perhaps more accurately, how easily Maureen made homemade ravioli-making appear. She rolled out that pasta dough like it was the most natural thing in the world. Niki’s attempts where a bit more rocky, and I, who still quakes in fear at the sight of a rolling pin, successfully avoided rolling out the dough all afternoon. Avoidance was probably not the wisest move on my part, because you know how Maureen went from a novice like Niki to rolling out a beautiful sheet of dough? Trial and error, patience and practice.
Here’s how the afternoon unfolded:
- Niki and LeAndra poured glasses of champagne to sip while watching Maureen mix and roll dough.
- Maureen cut the rolled dough into circles with the lightly floured rim of a glass.
- Niki and LeAndra placed spoonfuls of a ricotta-parmesan cheese mixture onto one of the dough circles, topped with a second dough circle, and crimped the edges shut with a fork.
- Repeat ravioli-making and champagne-sipping.
In just over three hours, we made three batches of dough, exactly 100 ravioli, and drank two bottles of champagne. Note: Niki and I had help with the champagne. We did not each drink a bottle of champagne, though I must admit I like the idea.
I think it’s also worth nothing that making homemade ravioli brings back a lot of memories of Maureen’s late mother and Niki’s late grandmother, Nana, who started the tradition. Though I never met Nana, I’ve been friends with Niki long enough to feel like I knew her through all the stories Niki has shared. I know how important my grandmothers’ traditions, love and recipes are to me, so to be invited to share in a friend’s family tradition that was started by a much-loved lady was very special to me.
By the way, I did show Niki how to make the homemade ricotta cheese. The quantity of ravioli we planned to make made store-bought ricotta cheese easier to use since the homemade ricotta was not made in advance, but the homemade ricotta found an immediate home in stuffed shells. Niki wrote me later with her verdict, “I really want to try making some [ravioli] with the homemade ricotta because the stuffed shells had a really good cheese flavor. It was probably the most flavorful cheese we’ve ever had in a dish like that, and I know it had to be the ricotta.” So simple…so good.
Keys to remember:
- Roll only half the dough at a time. Keep the other half covered to avoid drying out.
- Do not roll the pasta dough out more than three times. It will toughen to the point of little use after the third roll.
- Be patient, have fun and enjoy!
- For the ravioli dough:
- 4-ish cups flour, plus additional for flouring the work surface
- 3 eggs
- 1 sprinkle of salt
- ¾-ish cup of water
- For the ravioli filling:
- 1 pound ricotta cheese
- 2-4 ounces Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
- ¼ -1/2 cup chopped parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- To make the pasta dough, place four cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well, or a "pocket" according to Nana, in the center of the flour.
- Crack the three eggs into the well, sprinkle in some salt, and add the water.
- Mix until the dough achieves a consistency that is smooth, but not tacky or dry. Depending on humidity, additional flour and/or water may need to be added to the dough to achieve this consistency.
- When the dough is ready, place half in a bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
- Roll the remaining dough out on a floured work surface to about ¼" thickness.
- Flour the rim of a glass or round cookie cutter, and cut the dough into circles.
- Top one dough circle with a tablespoon-ish of cheese filling.
- Slightly stretch a second dough circle and place it on top of the cheese.
- Press the tines of a fork into flour, then use the fork to crimp the edges of the top circle onto the bottom circle. Take care to crimp all the way through to the bottom circle but avoid ripping the dough. This will ensure the raviolis do not come apart when boiled.
- Repeat until all raviolis are complete.
- Allow the raviolis to sit out to dry for 2-3 hours, then turn over to dry another 2-3 hours.
- Boil in water, top with a sauce of your choice, and serve.